January 25, 2011

Caring Doctors = Better Patients

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Doctors who show they care may have better patients. A new study reveals showing clinical empathy to patients could improve their satisfaction of care, motivate them to stick to their treatment plans and lower malpractice complaints.

"Empathy is the ability to understand another's experience, to communicate and confirm that understanding with the other person and to then act in a helpful manner," Dr. Robert Buckman, Princess Margaret Hospital and the Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, was quoted as saying."Despite some overlap with other compassionate responses, particularly sympathy, empathy is distinct."

Physicians do not express empathic responses often in clinical practice. In fact, in a recent study where oncologists were video-recorded speaking with their patients, they responded to just 22 percent of moments thought to be an empathic opportunity. A more recent study involving oncologists and lung cancer patients showed the physicians responding to only 11 percent of empathic opportunities.

Empathy is an important medical tool according to this evidence and can be acquired and taught in medical school. "Clinical empathy is an essential medical skill that can be taught and improved, thereby producing changes in physician behaviour and patient outcomes."

"Our profession now needs to incorporate the teaching of clinical empathy more widely into clinical practice at all levels beginning with the selection of candidates for medical school," added the authors. "The behavioral aspects of empathy -- the empathic response -- can be assessed and integrated into medical schools' core communication skills training."

SOURCE: CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal), 24 January 2011